Al-Idrisi’s map of the world, 1154 CE

A very useful volume on Islamic cartography is now online. Below is the table of contents, each chapter available in pdf.

Volume Two, Book One
Cartography in the Traditional Islamic and South Asian Societies
Edited by J. B. Harley and David Woodward

Volume 1

Front Matter
Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 1–24)
Gallery of Color Illustrations (Plates 25–40)

J. B. Harley and David Woodward

Part One – Islamic Cartography

Chapter 1. Introduction to Islamic Maps
Ahmet T. Karamustafa

Chapter 2. Celestial Mapping
Emilie Savage-Smith

Chapter 3. Cosmographical Diagrams
Ahmet T. Karamustafa

Early Geographical Mapping

Chapter 4. The Beginnings of a Cartographic Tradition
Gerald R. Tibbetts (more…)

Historic Arabic medical manuscripts go online

Researchers may now search and browse the Wellcome Library’s Arabic manuscripts using groundbreaking functionalities in a new online resource that brings together rich descriptive information and exceptionally detailed images.

Arabic medicine was once the most advanced in the world, and now digital facsimiles of some of its most important texts have been made freely available online. The unique online resource, based on the Wellcome Library’s Arabic manuscript collection, includes well-known medical texts by famous practitioners (such as Avicenna, Ibn al-Quff, and Ibn an-Nafis), lesser-known works by anonymous physicians and rare or unique copies, such as Averroes’ commentaries on Avicenna’s medical poetry.

The Wellcome Arabic Manuscript Cataloguing Partnership (WAMCP) combines the efforts of the Wellcome Library, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and King’s College London Digital Humanities Department and is funded by JISC and the Wellcome Trust. It offers a rich digital manuscript library available online for free, which represents a significant resource for a wide range of researchers – including Arabic studies scholars, medical historians and manuscript conservators – to aid and enhance their work.

The resource is now available online. (more…)

Last month I was invited by historian Eric Vallet to a conference on the Yemeni town of Yaiz in the Rasulid era. Eric has recently published an extraordinary study of the economic system of the Rasulid sultanate in the late 13th century and early 14th century, drawing on the growing corpus of court and tax documents, many of which have been edited by the Yemeni historian Muhammad Abd al-Rahim Jazm. Anyone with an interest in Rasulid Yemen will need to start with Eric’s masterful study. Details on the text, which is in French, are below:

Eric Vallet, L’Arabie marchande. Etat et commerce sous les sultans rasûlides du Yémen (626-858/1229-1454), Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2010 (Bibliothèque historique des pays d’Islam, 1), ISBN 978-2-85944-637-6. (more…)

Hurlbutt’s Atlas, p. 12

The Christian fascination with the Holy Land as a window into interpretation of the Bible has a long and indeed fascinating history of its own. Here I conclude the thread on Jesse Lyman Hurlbutt’s A Bible Atlas (New York: Rand McNally & Company, 1947, first published in 1882). What better way than with maps. Here then is Palestine in all its cartographic glory.

Hurlbutt’s Atlas, p. 16

The Christian fascination with the Holy Land as a window into interpretation of the Bible has a long and indeed fascinating history of its own. Here I continue the thread on Jesse Lyman Hurlbutt’s A Bible Atlas (New York: Rand McNally & Company, 1947, first published in 1882). Hurlbutt includes two diagrams showing cross-sections across Palestine. That shown above is an east-west transect, showing the Dead Sea level at 1,300 feet below sea level. These were indeed better times, more than a century ago. Today the Dead Sea has dropped at least another 85 feet and continues at an alarming rate. The north-south transect is shown below. In order to be able to read it here, I have split it, but originally it was a single horizontal diagram. (more…)

Comparative view of the United States and Old Testament world, approximate scale, 900 miles to 1 inch (in the original map which is only 3 3/4 inches across)

The Christian fascination with the Holy Land as a window into interpretation of the Bible has a long and indeed fascinating history of its own. Here I continue the thread on Jesse Lyman Hurlbutt’s A Bible Atlas (New York: Rand McNally & company, 1947, first published in 1882). I love the irony of the map above. Long before the political map devolved into Blue States vs. Red States, here is the Old Testament squarely in an expanded Bible Belt.

Here is Hurlbutt’s summary of the physical space defined as the Old Testament world:

The Old Testament world embraces the seas and lands between 30° and 54° east longitude, or from the mouth of the Nile to the head of the Persian Gulf; and between 27° and 40° north latitude, from the parallel south of Mt. Sinai to the north of Mount Ararat. The total extent of territory is about 1,400 miles from east to west and 900 miles from north to south, aggregating 1,260,000 square miles. If the space occupied by the Mediterranean Sea and other large bodies of water is deducted from this, the land will include about 1,110,000 square miles, or one-third of the extent of the United States, excluding Alaska. Unlike the United States, however, nearly two-thirds of this area is a vast and uninhabitable desert, so that the portion actually occupied by man is less than an eighth of that included int he American Union.

I wonder what Sarah Palin would think about Hurlbutt excluding Alaska, but at least it was not a state yet and some still referred to it as Seward’s folly.

To be continued …

The British Residency Office, Aden


by Adam Curtis, BBC blog, January 8, 2010

What I find so fascinating about the reporting of the War on Terror is the way almost all of it ignores history – as if it is a conflict happening outside time. The Yemen is a case in point. In the wake of the underpants bomber we have been deluged by a wave of terror journalism about this dark mediaeval country that harbours incomprehensible fanatics who want to destroy the west. None of it has explained that only forty years ago the British government fought a vicious secret war in the Yemen against republican revolutionaries who used terror, including bombing airliners.

But the moment you start looking into that war you find out all sorts of extraordinary things.

First that the chaos that has engulfed the Yemen today and is breeding new terrorist threats against the west is a direct result of that conflict of forty years ago.

Secondly it also had a powerful and corrupting effect on Britain itself. To fight the war both Conservative and Labour governments in the 1960s set up international arms deals with the Saudis. These involved bribery on a huge scale which led to the Al Yamamah scandal that still festers today. (more…)

The ubiquity of GPS threatens to leave the old printed map out of the picture. This is a pity, for there is much to be learned from the way maps frame the world. As J. Z. Smith once remarked, map is not territory. True enough, but maps are the way we imagine not only territory but our place in it. When Edward Said wrote his critique of Orientalism in 1978, he cited novelists, travelers, poets and academics, but no mapmakers. But in a way Holy Land maps are what put the Holy Land on the map. Maps not only illustrated what was thought to be the lay of the land, but what people imagined was there.

A splendid example of this is an 1856 pictorial Bible map of the Journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan. I reproduce the image above, but if you
click here you can get a greatly enlarged view to see the details. Mind you, this was 1856, when few of the archeological discoveries in Bible territory had come to light. This is evident in the depiction of the “Chief God of Egypt,” (left side of map) who looks like a cross between an Assyrian and a Viking.


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